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Learning at its Best

A New Year Begins Again

Tomorrow will be our 13th day of school and some routines and patterns of behaving are beginning to appear. My job is somewhat different this year in that I have been given responsibility for a fifth grade math group and other fifth grade support in addition to my job as Gifted Resource Teacher. (Our county provides a full time gifted position in schools with over 300 kids, but our school this year doesn’t quite meet that mark, so additional duties have been assigned.)

Bottom line though, is that I am on the fifth grade team officially–not as a specialist, but as a third fifth grade teacher. And, being a member of that team has been an eye-opener to the time crunch I already knew we had, but hadn’t realized it as quite as bad as it really is. In having discussions about schedules, assessment, how to group for getting to know the kids, shared community building activities, etc., I’m missing having more time to talk about the kids as human beings–their likes, dislikes, friends, learning needs/styles/interests, etc. Part of that, I know, is letting the teachers new to these kids get to know them. We’ve begun it, as the school year settles into a routine, but I’m impatient, as those of you who know me are well aware.

It’s funny how each school year brings new hope for new beginnings and a belief that this year will be different, and better, and more…whatever it is we think we’re going to improve. Kids come to us many times that way as well–with hopes of a change from the past year or looking for new experiences, or more science, or history or whatever their favorite subject happens to be.

I took one of my groups to the lab one day last week and asked them to write about either Thomas Edison or Amelia Earhart (both of whom are tied into a “Make To Learn” transmedia book we are working with to build wind turbines.) As we were going to the computer lab, one girl said, “FINALLY!  We get to do some history–I haven’t done any history in school for two years!”  Is it important sometimes that we explicitly name what we are doing with kids?  I find it hard to believe her previous teachers did NO history at all last year. However, perceptions are what counts–and hers is that she learned no history in school in her previous grade. I also found it intriguing that she saw finding facts about two people as “doing history”.

Another child in another one of my groups (I am still working with kids from all grade levels) said that a big difference in last year and this one was that she had noticed they weren’t being given a ton of worksheets–that she had thought it was just the first week of school, but that now that we’re in our third week, it’s still true–and that’s a HUGE difference. It’s fascinating to watch and listen to the kids as they compare and contrast to refine their definitions of “school.”

And, as for me and my thoughts about a new school year? I’m finding this one to be darn near as busy as last year, despite a conscious effort to not set myself up that way. I’m finding some kids still wanting to escape their regular classroom work because they see it as worksheet driven, for the most part. I never find enough time as I want to talk to and work with teachers, and trying to provide high quality, strenuous work for all kids at a level that challenges them is always hard work.

Part of what I really want, though, is the community and parent partnerships  Michelle Baldwin speaks of in her blog:

I want parents and teachers, teachers and teachers and principal and teachers to all feel like the kids in the building are OUR kids and that we all work together to help everyone be the best we can be. Most of all, I want kids to feel like they are a valued member of our community and that they have a voice.  I want kids, when they ask to sit with their friends in the cafeteria, to have the freedom to do that, recognizing that with freedom comes responsibility. I want teachers, when they make rules, to think about how that affects kids working together and how it supports and extends collaborations, not compliance. I want our building rules to not be about compliance, but instead about real learning, real community, real life experiences that support responsible, caring people–and not worksheets or busy work to keep kids occupied.

I want people to pay attention to kids–their behaviors that speak volumes as to whether they are connected to other kids and the content and the community–and we need to support, help and reach out to those kids who sit by themselves at lunch, or hang out alone on the playground, or always choose to sit in the back of the room, or to work alone. Pulling those kids (and sometimes, adults) into the community is not an easy task–but a worthwhile one.

And, I want people to recognize that we all understand having large classes (as we do in 4th and 5th this year) is a formidable task…and while my job can be pullout, it is also designed to support classroom teachers managing many different things happening in the classroom at once to provide for all of the various levels of thinking and learning they have in their rooms at any given time. We all have to work towards the skills our county defines as “Lifelong Learner Standards.” That can’t get lost in the push for test prep or curriculum, or parent pressure to make sure the kid is ready for middle school, or the next grade, or whatever.  We have to help students be ready for learning now–and get better at knowing how they learn so they can do it all their life.

We teachers get so wrapped up in what we are doing with our students that sometimes the bigger picture of the community and the underlying goals for the kids’ growth are lost. Can we move from thinking about “a teacher’s job is” to “our work is…” and agree? Just what is “our work”  and how do we do that to figure out exactly how to help kids use the Lifelong Learner Standards to be the best they can be in this ever changing world?

So, a new year begins.  What is it that I want to improve upon?  If we are going to prepare the students to be lifelong learners and to thrive in the world as it is becoming, we have to recognize that learning is simultaneously personal AND social.  I want to make this AND explicit for my students, my colleagues, and my community.




About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


2 thoughts on “A New Year Begins Again

  1. What you want and what you’ve seen mirror much of what I’ve experienced and felt so far this year, Paula. We need an institution that creates time and space to care for what we negotiate and foster with students, teaching, and learning.

    What do your fifth graders need the most in terms of learning to redefine school?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | September 13, 2011, 12:49 pm


  1. Pingback: It’s that time of the year again! Back to school! « Fisch Fail, INC. - September 12, 2011

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